rockym93 dot net

archive · tags · feed

The Ice Cream Principle.

05 July 201003:26PMthings

Imagine, if you will, a room. In this room is a man, and he is sitting at a table, and at that table in front of him is a bowl full of chocolate icecream. As far as he knows, he has existed in this room, subsisting off this icecream, for the whole of time. Being a curious and philisophical H.Sapiens, he begins to ponder the situation in which he finds himself.

"Why is this ice cream here?", he asks himself.

Not having anything to make reference to outside of his little room, he decides: "I am here. This ice cream is here. I eat the ice cream. So, this ice cream must be here for my explicit benefit, as if there were no icecream, there could be no me!"

Having solved his little problem, he sits down to eat. But he hesitates.

"But what if this icecream were not here? Well, logically, I too could not be here, which means that the icecream must really truly be here for my benefit! If the ice cream wasn't here, then I wouldn't be here, and if I wasn't here, there would be nobody to eat the ice cream."

So he starts to eat. Halfway through a mouthful, he thinks, "What if the ice cream were not the way it was? If it was different, then surely I would be different too (having lived off a different flavour of ice cream for the whole of eternity), and so this ice cream must be exactly the way it is in order for me to be exactly the way I am! So, in conclusion, if things were different, they would be different, and if I wasn't here, then I wouldn't be here! It all seems so clear now!".

Having thus thought himself around in a circle, he promptly dismisses all thought of the fundamental nature of his ice cream and eats it.

Now, any person looking in on this situation can see that it is faintly idiotic. This man has convinced himself through a lovely bout of circular logic that, since he is a product of and dependant on his ice cream, that his existence cannot possibly be any other way. That if things were different, then they would be different.

Well, duh.

Unfortunately, this exact logic apparently passes for philosophical reasoning, or worse, theoretical physics, in the form of the Anthropic Principle, which states that "The universe must support life, because we exist. If the universe did not support life, we could not exist. If the universe was different, then in all probability, life would be different." Again, duh. But that in itself is not the problem: as a statement, it is fine, it's even true, and based on sound scientific observation (I mean, we're here, right?). The problem comes when people try to use it as an explanation of why the universe is the way it is. Suddenly, then, it takes on all these weird other meanings, like "The universe must absolutely imperatively support life as its ultimate directive and purpose and therefore evolving human life was its entire purpose, or what was the point?"

This is wrong.

What is happening is that must (as in, therefore it follows that...) is being conflated with must (it is imperative and essential that...) and is picking up these hokey pseudo-religious ideas along the way. No. The Anthropic Principle is not that. _It is a method of explaining the obvious bias towards creating us in the universe we see around us- Becuase we are physically incapable of experiencing any other universe and thus our experience of universes is limited to the ones in which we can exist. If all you can breathe is oxygen, then you can clearly only exist (and therefore see) in places there is oxygen. If all you can metabolise is a specific sequence of carbon atoms, then you can only exist (and therefore observe) a universe containing that kind of atoms. If all you can eat is ice cream, you can clearly only ever visit places where there is ice cream. It's really the exact opposite of the hokey the-universe-was-made-for-us crap - the universe _does not care whether life emerges or not, and so it's up to life to fit the universe and not the other way around, and this obviously limits the scope of universe we can see such that it appears that the universe does care. Which it doesn't.

I get the feeling I'm beginning to repeat myself now, so I'll wrap this one up. If you're a philosopher and/or theoretical physicist and/or person who understands these things better than me, feel free to point out exactly how wrong I am. If you aren't any of the above... well, feel free to point out how wrong I am anyway, because (and this is possibly the biggest problem with the Principle (I'm not even sure it deserves that capital P)) it's not like we can prove it one way or the other anyway.

And with that, I bid you groodnight.

read the comments

< What is Awesome? Delineation, and Habits, and some other stuff. >